Forum: Rapid Consolidation: A Threat to Diversity?

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The urge to merge, which is shaking the very foundations ofthe cable industry, may soon be followed by an urge to purge that could leave our industryless diverse and less ready to compete in the 21st century.

People of all colors -- white, black, red, yellow and brown-- who have careers in this industry are pondering the implications of the latestmega-merger between Comcast Corp. and MediaOne Group Inc.

With Comcast now at about 11 million subscribers andAT&T Broadband & Internet Services (formerly Tele-Communications Inc.) and TimeWarner Cable both at about 12 million, almost one-half of the industry's 66 millionsubscribers are in the hands of three MSOs.

In the past six months, we've lost several MSOs, whilea number of others have been significantly reduced in size. Those lost companies representa significant number of jobs and career opportunities, particularly in the upper ranks.

Consolidation on the operator side is likely to have aripple effect on the programmer side. Do you really need as manyaffiliate-relations-management jobs if there aren't nearly as many major operators?

People of color, who are more highly penetrated in thesepositions, may be severely impacted. For those people who retain their jobs, climbing tothe top of the ladder could be much more difficult, since there will be fewer ladders.

The buzz at the office water coolers and coffee machineshas now shifted from, "Wow, things are changing," to, "I wonder what thismeans for my career." There are three major issues to be addressed to answer thisquestion.

• How do we handle the jobs and opportunities that areleft?

• What new jobs will be created as our industrytransforms?

• Does our industry have a process in place to ensurethat we get the best, most diverse talent pool for filling these jobs?

The emphasis of the National Association of Minorities inCommunications is that our industry should continue to push for diversity during this timeof tumultuous change. We need an industrywide partnership of companies, trade associationsand forward-thinking individuals to give our industry the diversity that it needs tocompete in the future.

If there is no programmatic approach to increasing ormaintaining diversity while consolidating, we could look up and find our industry evenless diverse than it is today.

NAMIC'S RECOMMENDATIONS

Create an Industry Job Bank:

The industry needs to support the National Cable TelevisionAssociation's diversity initiative. The NCTA has allocated seed money to build anetwork of online industry job sites that will make it easier for all people to getinformation about job openings.

Under the proposed plan, the NAMIC job site will serve asthe hub. Every company needs to connect to this site and to this opportunity.

Executive Development:

Too many people often say that they cannot find strongsenior candidates of color. The candidates exist. The industry, however, has notsubstantially learned to access that talent and to nurture and retain it.

Additionally, we must go beyond looking for the flaws inthe candidate pool and examine the flaws in our own thinking about people who aredifferent from us.

We believe that it is necessary to offer two types ofexecutive development. The first type will offer leadership and management-developmentprograms for promising individuals. The second type will train current management ondeveloping and maintaining a diverse work force.

In order for these programs to be successful, we will needstrong industry support. However, we believe that support will be one of the bestinvestments that our industry has ever made, giving us a much stronger talent pool tocompete within the next century.

Career Redirection:

As we examine the adverse impact of consolidation, we musthelp people to develop strategic career options. We must prepare our folks -- whose skillshave supported the industry's success -- for the reconfigured jobs of the newreality. We must focus them on global opportunities. We must encourage transitions toInternet/new-media jobs.

We are already seeing many industry associates moving intothe Internet/new-media fields. Likewise, there are numerous people with long andestablished careers in our industry who are now working overseas. The real question is:How diverse are our Internet/new-media and overseas operations going to be?

Career counseling is essential. NAMIC is planning severalevents and activities to broaden perspectives about career options. Our goal is to helpindividuals in our industry to make these career transitions successfully.

Entrepreneurship:

There will be continuous opportunities for ambitious peopleof all races to start new businesses, both overseas and on the Internet/new-media side.Our industry can spur that entrepreneurial surge with aggressive plans to use vendors ofcolor and to help fund and to partner in promising projects.

This industry was built by mavericks. We must persist inbeing forward-thinking.

NAMIC will continue to advocate diversity in procurementand ownership. We will be a resource to the industry and a showcase for success.

What has made this industry great has been our ability tofind win-win solutions for all involved. We have shared ideas and shared in the growth andin the building of a leading telecommunications vehicle for the new century.

But this new century will see the minority becoming themajority. It will see most of our international trade, even in the communicationsindustry, come from nonwhite countries. If we are to maintain leadership, we must use thisperiod of unprecedented growth and consolidation to prepare for a more diverse future bybecoming more diverse now.

Rapid consolidation need not be a threat to diversity.Instead, it urges us to be vigilant in identifying opportunities to include rather thanexclude, to promote rather than devalue, and to examine rather than ignore the benefits ofdiversity.

Joe Lawson is president of the National Association ofMinorities in Communications and vice president, marketing for Bresnan Communications.

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